13 December 2016

The Silhouette

The Silhouette
Etienne de Silhouette
The Silhouette: From The 18th Century To The Present Day is Augusta Dorr's translation of Georges Vigarello's La Silhouette, which was first published in French in 2012. The book examines the origins of silhouette portraiture: "Etienne de Silhouette created highly distinctive profile portraits by tracing the outline of a shadow." (Vigarello also includes what he claims is a silhouette by de Silhouette himself, though his work has not been reproduced in other books on the subject.)

Vigarello writes in his introduction that "there has been no work to date dealing with the history of this subject... the images it evokes and the practices related to it have not been analyzed, either in the context of their long iconographic or lexical course, or of their cultural journey." In fact, there are two previous histories of the silhouette: E Neville Jackson's Silhouette: Notes & Dictionary (1938) and Emma Rutherford's Silhouette: The Art Of The Shadow (2009). Jackson, in particular, conducted pioneering research into the subject, and the first edition of her book is essential.

As a study of monochrome silhouettes, Vigarello's book is less comprehensive than Jackson's or Rutherford's. However, it's significant as it extends the discussion of silhouettes beyond shadow portraits, examining the artistic representation of the human profile in fashion and popular culture. Its illustrations are also more diverse, ranging from satirical caricatures to advertising posters.